Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Kenya Calling – Tailing Taita
This post is about an incident that happened during my trip to Kwenia with Simon (which you can read in the post ‘Flight to Kwenia’). The incident lasted for less than 20 minutes but was of such significance that it needed a separate post. So here it is.
While atop the Kwenia cliff, while Simon and I are exploring the vegetation looking for birds and other animals, suddenly Simon gives a low whopping cry of joy and flattens himself into the grass like a stalking snake. He bids me to follow his example and keep my mouth shut. I do both and look around in anticipation of something big, marauding and perhaps looking for a human prey. My heart begins to beat afresh in excitement. Whenever I sense that my end is near, I am super excited. But I see nothing, not even in the scale of those vermin called soldier ants. I am little disappointed but to see Simon one would feel that he has finally found the city of El Dorado. He beckons me closer. I crawl on my chest and then he points to a tree right at the edge of the cliff.
The tree is completely barren with sharp, brown dry branches sticking out at odd angles and well shrouded within those branches there sits a very curious and cute looking bird with big round inquisitive eyes. It has dark feathers on top and light brown chest, with tawny claws and a yellow patch around its beak. Its big beady eyes are encircled within a round patch of yellow as well. By now I have enough knowledge to predict that the bird is one of prey. It looks very docile and adorable with the round eyes as it looks around in short jerky neck movements. I like the bird yet can’t understand Simon’s excitement that just radiates out of his every pore.
‘That’s a Taita Falcon, Satya.’ Simon whispers in my ears reverently. ‘You are the luckiest man on this planet.’ Well, if he says so then I certainly am, so I keep staring at the bird with newly found respect. To me a Taita Falcon could be anything. After a while the bird takes to wings and then we go to inspect the tree from close quarters. Only then does Simon let me into the secret.
A Taita Falcon is the rarest species of raptors in the world. It is the most endangered species of raptor as well due to its very low population (less than 800 in the world by rough estimate, the actual population can be far less). Its habitat is sparse, uncommon and rare, and is widely distributed over East and South Africa. Many birdwatchers spend their lifetime in search of a Taita and never see one in the wild. Not only it is the rarest raptor in the world but it is one of the rarest species of any animals on planet. It is one of the species that are facing certain extinction soon. Simon, in his last 45 years of birding had seen it only a couple of times but never from such a close distance.
As I listen to Simon, my eyes just keep growing in wonderment and my face glows with excitement. That certainly is a major lucky break to my birding career. Simon says that the sighting of this single bird is justification enough to convert the entire area into a conservancy and bring in funds to study it further. He also claims that now I am not only qualified to undertake a PhD in Taita but I had already climbed Mt Everest of the raptor world.
The droppings on ground proves that the Taita regularly visits this part of the cliff and perches on this particular skeleton tree. Simon marks it out for future observations and research work, for which he would return in the future.
After that we conclude our Kwenia trip (which you can read in the Kwenia post) and return home.
On the way back I keep pondering, was it sheer luck that Simon and I had to be precisely on that spot, out of the possible thousand others, where the Taita had decided to perch precisely at that hour! The probability of that happening was and still is impossible. It hadn’t taken us any efforts, we had no intention of looking for a Taita neither did we have the knowledge that the Taita would be there. Yet we had seen it and from a distance of not more than 10 m, with Simon getting a video of the bird as well along with its calls. Was it luck or were we and I destined to see a Taita on that day. There were zillion possibilities that we may not have been there on that day and at that hour yet we were there and so was the Taita.
With my deep rooted conviction about destiny I could finally explain the incident and within my heart spared a line of prayer to my deity and god, the Shiva.